Thursday, 28th March 2013
When scanning large format negatives I discovered that I was often clipping highlights and shadows without realising it. It wasn’t until I opened the massive files in Photoshop that I discovered the clipped highlights and/or shadows. After waiting a long time for a high resolution scan to complete it’s a bit frustrating to have to start again after a tweak to the histogram in Epson Scan. Even worse if the tweak isn’t enough and it’s still clipped after the second scan!
My solution is to be more careful to analyse and set the white & black points before scanning the whole frame. I do this by reducing the size of the scan frame to a small box and then move it around the image, checking and adjusting histogram.
Move the box over a small highlight area, then modify the histogram white point to make sure nothing is clipped. Then do the same for a shadow area with the black point.
Here’s an example of how I originally set the points, which resulted in clipped highlights. When the whole frame is selected, the small area of highlights does not show up on the histogram resulting in me choosing a white point of 134:
But after selecting a much smaller area of the frame where there are strong highlights, the histogram updates to show just what’s within the selection. This shows that the white point should really be set to 204 – a huge difference!
The resulting scan:
Friday, 8th March 2013
2013 is well underway and so I thought I’d post a quick update to let you know the sort of things I’m going to work on this year (inspired by Simon’s post back in January… it’s taken me this long to finally blog this!)
The Year I Start Printing in the Darkroom!
Film photography is definitely a slippery slope, once you start you soon find more and more you want to do. It all started with shooting film again with a fairly modern Canon SLR and my current EOS lenses. I sent the film away to a lab to have it developed and scanned. The next step was to delve into the wonderful world of vintage film cameras, both 35mm and medium format. I finally succumbed to the instant film photography craze (peel-apart film in my case) and I love it!
Buying a scanner I made sure to heed the warnings of others and buy one that can scan a bigger negative than I expect to need; I’m glad I did, I’m now shooting 5×4 on a Speed Graphic!
I started developing B&W at home and despite the steep learning curve, especially when figuring out the right and best equipment to get started, it really is as easy as other people say. It’s such a satisfying experience to shoot and develop film; it’s a gratifying and rewarding experience from start (choosing a camera, lens and film) to the end result (a negative)… except that’s not the end result is it? Scanning the negative, the ‘hybrid workflow’, is superb and the digital result does not detract from the whole experience. But I have the itch to start printing and complete the whole process through to a darkroom print. So I need a darkroom…
5×4 Harman Direct Positive Paper
Before I get too carried away with the idea of darkroom printing (who am I kidding, it’s way too late, that ship has sailed and I’m measuring things up and sketching plans!) I am going to try some direct positive paper in the Speed Graphic.
The paper is loaded into the film holder and exposed at a ridiculously low ISO rating (ISO 3 or even ISO 1.5).
Here are some of the pictures on Flickr that have inspired me! There is a brilliant thread on the Large Format Photography forum with great advice and brilliant examples too!
The paper can then be loaded into the brilliant MOD54 and developed (using a paper developer) in the standard daylight developing tank – no dark room required.
I’m totally inspired by the results from these photographers. The paper can be difficult to tame; it can be very contrasty. This can be overcome by ‘pre-flashing’ the paper (lots of experimentation required to achieve this) or simply by using very flat lighting. I plan to give both methods a try and compare the results.
Acquired Enlarger – Clean up and test
A friend of mine was clearing out his cupboard and kindly gave me his old gear. This included a 35mm enlarger; the Zenith UPA-5. It’s a neat Russian enlarger that packs away into a small suitcase. Unfortunately, the foam from the case has totally deteriorated and has caused an awful mess, it wasn’t much fun cleaning it up but didn’t take too long.
It will be an ideal opportunity to perform some basic printing, get my feet wet in a darkened room and make sure that I want to pursue the building of a complete darkroom. Fortunately our garage – the proposed location of the darkroom – is extremely dark during the dark winter nights. We live in the middle of the countryside so we have little to no light pollution to contend with.
Should my hunger for making prints persist after some playing and testing with the enlarger in the dark garage, I will build a partitioned ‘room’ in the corner of the garage in the photo below.
I might need to get rid of some stuff first. Believe it or not I’ve already started – there was a lot of ‘stuff’ there before I took that picture!!
As the garage is so dark already with the doors closed – even during the day – hopefully it shouldn’t be too much of a challenge to create a light tight partitioned section with simple door access. The garage does tend to drip a lot of water after a frost so I will need to create a watertight roof to keep everything safe. We have some friends who are having a new kitchen installed so I have acquired their old worktop, sink and cupboards.
Plans and Projects for the Coming Months
I need to set myself projects and/or themes to focus my photography. The great thing about wedding photography is that there are certain boundaries and goals are already set. By focussing on such clearly defined goals and objectives I find I produce much better results compared to my personal work, which can often consist of aimlessly wandering around looking for subjects. I must be more disciplined with my personal work – set myself projects, goals and objectives. Making prints will be the first of those projects, but I will also look at themes to focus on when exposing film.
Cardboard Scanner Camera
I’ve been inspired by Simon Kidd’s amazing efforts in producing an ‘ultra large format’ camera (part 1, part 2 and part 3!). His project began with the goal of making a camera (out of cardboard) that would allow him to capture an image using an old scanner he had. His project soon grew arms and legs… several metres of MDF, a gallon of glue, a lot of caulk, some Ikea frames, blood, sweat and tears later – he made himself an impressive 20×16” camera that holds a massive lens and allows him to expose huge sheets of paper to produce paper negatives.
I don’t plan to build an ultra large format camera any time soon, but the ‘scanning back’ was interesting to me, so I gave it a quick try with an old Canon Lide80 that was lying around redundant. I simply plonked a cardboard tube (packaging for the MOD54) and then placed a lens in a cardboard lens board on top. After a quick scan of the ceiling with me standing on a chair the theory of creating a cardboard scanner camera became feasible!
Even more interesting is that the scanner ‘sees’ a lot of Infrared light, most people use a IR blocking filter, but I’m considering what could be done with an IR filter than blocks visible light – after a quick test is seems to work (it looks much the same as the result without the filter suggesting that the IR sensitivity seems to overpower the visible light sensitivity.)
Update: Lots more to come – the darkroom build is well on its way and I have completed a few Direct Positive prints and my first darkroom prints!
Friday, 6th January 2012
The only thorn in my film photography side so far is scanning the negatives. There are too many choices and I want to know that my method is getting the most from the negative but is relatively simple and easy to repeat. After a lot of research and experimentation, I think I’ve found a procedure for scanning B&W negatives. I just need to figure out the best way of scanning C-41 negatives; so far I’ve found scanning colour negatives needs way too much tweaking to get the colour balance right. I’ve read a lot of different articles, tried Epson Scan, Vuescan and abandoned SilverFast (it won’t even connect to the scanner and now it just immediately crashes when I try to load it!!) and I’m still scratching my head. The best result has always been from Epson Scan but I still find myself with really inconsistent results (some really poor) and I have to mess around with the RGB levels in the scanner software way too much. I think I’m going to try scanning as a positive and following a guide on Feeling Negative. I’ve read a lot about ColorPerfect and negfix8 and I think the time has come to try them.
So my black & white scanning procedure with an Epson V700 is as follows:
- I use Epson Scan software with all the enhancement settings turned off (including the sharpening)
- The following settings: B&W negative Film, 16-bit grayscale (Despite what some say on forums I didn’t see any great – if any – improvement scanning in 48-bit RGB and ditching two of the channels in Photoshop. I came to this conclusion after a LOT of flicking between the two versions!), 6400dpi (I’ll down-res this to 3200 dpi later for a slight improvement in sharpness)
- Using the ‘normal’ view rather than ‘thumbnail’ I draw a rough select box around the first frame I want to scan then, zooming closer, I make a more precise selection to exclude everything except the exposed image
- I then click the ‘Auto Exposure’ button, which is usually a pretty good starting point
- Opening the ‘Histogram Adjustment’ window I change the ‘Output’ values to 0 and 255 and move the white and black points to the right and left of the histogram graph – I don’t want any (or at least not too much) clipping at this stage. I adjust the midpoint until the overall brightness looks about right (erring on the side of brighter than I need it to be)
- I then either set up the other frames in the same way (by taking a copy of the previous frame) or start the scan. It’s a bit tedious zooming into each frame and tweaking – is there a better way!?
- Load the images into Photoshop and down sample them to 3200dpi (I’ve read that the EPSON V700 scans are optimum at 3200dpi but scanning at 6400dpi and down sampling showed a little improvement compared to scanning at 3200dpi)
- I adjust the levels in Photoshop – I found that the ‘Blacks’ slider in Lightroom does not seem operate in the same way as adjusting the black point of Levels in Photoshop. I want the blacks to clip slightly and if a large adjustment is required, the result in Lightroom is horrible!
- I add a local contrast by using a High Pass filter – Radius: 20 pixels on a duplicate layer, set the layer blend mode to ‘Overlay’, and the opacity to 25% – I’m going to reconsider whether or not to do this in Photoshop. I like to have a non-destructive workflow and so I don’t like to flatten the original image. Adding the High Pass filter layer adds to the file size significantly and for little return. I should probably just use the ‘Clarity’ slider in Lightroom instead.
- The rest of the tweaks are performed in Lightroom and are specific to each image. As this is film I try to keep the tweaks to a minimum: Dust removal, capture sharpening, scanner noise reduction, some slight contrast tweaking using curves
Here’s an example output from my B&W negative scanning process:
Canon EOS 3, EF 50mm f/1.2L, ILFORD HP5 PLUS (shot at ISO 800), processed by Peak Imaging, Scanned on Epson V700
Monday, 2nd January 2012
I’m a bit of an organising freak… well I am in spirit if not always in practice! I like to try to catalog and keyword my images in Lightroom (nothing too time consuming). Now I’m shooting film again I am trying to keep notes about the images I’m making. After being spoilt by all the EXIF data stored by digital cameras I feel I would miss this information from my negative scans as it often helps me to improve my photography. I started considering storing this data in the keywords portion of the EXIF data, but when I see my images on Flickr without any camera model and other EXIF data it makes me cringe a little (the OCD in me again!) I have seen other film photographers on Flickr with this EXIF data and so I started a search of various Flickr groups for the perfect EXIF editing tool as it seems that Lightroom doesn’t have the function to let you edit camera model, lens data, exposure details, etc.
I have started using AnalogExif, which allows you to create a database of equipment, film types and developing chemicals. So far it works really very well and I can sleep soundly knowing that my film photography will be as organised as well as my digital photography!
Update 07/01/2012 – Unfortunately the ‘Original Capture Time’ part of AnalogExif doesn’t seem to work properly; it doesn’t set the correct field that is read by other software. I have therefore started using John Beardsworth’s Lightroom Plugin Capture Time to Exif. I’m currently using the trial version that is restricted to working on 10 files at a time. I might investigate using it to set the other EXIF fields too and therefore eliminate the need for AnalogExif. I’ll then buy the plugin; it’s just £8.